Day 8: Colorado Springs
After sleeping on it, we decided buying a Jeep was the best course of action. We had hoped to save the money but between rental cars being unavailable, inconvenient, and sometimes quite expensive, we decided buying a Jeep Wrangler, which holds it’s value remarkably well, would offer us the freedom to explore, go off to a market or a restaurant, without a lot of planning. Luckily the day was beautiful and the RV Park had good amenities so we just took it easy, made friends with the neighbors who had two kids the same ages and played well at the park’s playground, and used phone and internet to buy our Toad (that’s tow vehicle in our new RV lingo)! The family we played with were so incredibly nice; they even offered to drive us into town to talk with the dealership or to pick up a car! While we didn’t take them up on it, we were blown away at friendly they were. And look at those adorable children!
It was very nice to sit outside under the awning and tree canopy, feeling the breeze in my hair and hearing the birds chirping. After a week of being on the move, it felt weird to simply research, write and relax, but it was exactly what we need – both kids even napped… at the same time! By the evening, we knew which Jeep we wanted, had negotiated as hard as possible, and our only regret was that we would have to leave Colorado Springs undiscovered because the car dealership was in Denver. It was a nice night for a fire, so we drank a bottle of wine, wrote a bit more, and got things ready so that we could leave early the next morning.
We got up and immediately started packing to move out and get to Denver, but I insisted we stop at Garden of the Gods on the way, a beautiful area of unique sandstone formations. I’d heard how stunning it is and I couldn’t cope with leaving the area without at least a minimal amount of exploring; after all, the Jeep could wait, right? I had researched their website exhaustively and could find no mention of RVs, so I took that as a good sign that we’d be allowed in. I also learned a great deal about the Public Park (actually owned by the city of Colorado Springs) and National Natural Landmark and its fascinating history and geology. I especially loved the story I found on www.visitcos.com about how the area became a free city park:
How did an area of such national significance become a city park?
The answer to that question is a story of friendship, of strong commitment to the common good and of children fulfilling their father’s dream. This part of the story begins in 1879 when General William Jackson Palmer, founder of the city of Colorado Springs, convinced his good friend, Charles Elliott Perkins to buy 240 acres of land known as the Garden of the Gods. In 1899, Perkins purchased another 240 acres and in his letters to General Palmer, expressed his desire to donate his 480 acres to the City of Colorado Springs. Perkins was undoubtedly influenced by General Palmer, who already had donated more than 1,000 acres of his own land to become public city park lands.
In 1907, Charles Perkins died before he had officially arranged for the Garden of the Gods in Colorado to become a public park. However, knowing their father’s wish for the Garden, Perkins’ children deeded the 480-acre Garden of the Gods to the City of Colorado Springs on December 22, 1909, with the stipulation that it remain “free to the entire world.”
Today the original 480-acre Perkins land donation, “a gift of inestimable value” forms the center of Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, which now totals 1,367 acres. It still is free and will always be “Kept forever free to the world.”
The visitor center actually had bus and RV parking so Nina and I hopped out and got some info on where we could drive through and possible parking locations. If we’d had more time, I would have loved to explore their extensive Visitor and Nature Center, as I think both the kids and I would have learned a lot; it was like a mini- Fernbank Museum. But alas, we knew we had a long day ahead of us and only had about 2 hours to explore a place that deserves a minimum of 4 and possibly a lifetime
discovering. Navigating the RV through the loop was easy and scenic, but parking proved a challenge, even on a workday. We managed to park at the base of the hike to the Siamese Twins rock formation, though if we had arrived even 2 minutes later, we would have been completely stuck and unable to turn around. As it happened, we got a great spot and hopped out to hike the trail with the kids and dogs (I loved that the dogs were allowed to hike here, and so did they!).
The hike to Siamese Twins should have been pretty easy, though occasionally steep, except Nina was cranky and we were stupid (lazy) and didn’t bring either of our baby carriers. Within 5 minutes Nina wanted to be carried “My legs are ti-red, Mommy”, and though London’s energy knows no bounds, keeping him on a path is a job on it’s own. We did finally make it though and it was worth the trouble to get there, as I’ve never seen formations so close up. It’s a wondrous place, in part because they allow visitors to climb all over. The views to Pike’s Peak were fantastic too.
As we hiked back down to the RV, a horseback riding tour passed by, and this is when we discovered that Chai does NOT like them. At all. Thankfully their horses were well trained and didn’t react to Chai’s berserk tantrum, as we had stepped off the path to let them by and had nowhere to go with her. Not only was this a bit unnerving in the moment, but it also foreshadowed issues we would have later, when staying on ranches!
Perhaps the most famous formation Garden of the Gods is The Balancing Rock. With kids and dogs, it was a drive, not a hike to get from Siamese Twins to The Balancing Rock. But within about 2 minutes of getting back in the RV, it was quite clear we needed to just move on; the kids were melting down from heat and hunger. I was in denial though and Raj had to talk me down from having my own tantrum – I was just so disappointed that we couldn’t see more of this special place! It was so frustrating to have driven halfway across the U.S. to see such things, and then have to leave before we felt done!
An hour and a half later, we arrived at the dealership in our big-ass RV. They found a place for us to park her, and were nice to invite the dogs inside. I took the Jeep for a test drive, which was interesting because, well, let’s just say Raj’s Porsche has a different feeling clutch. It was different, but fun! Since we had already negotiated price, we just had to get the paperwork moving. I’d like to say it was relatively painless, but trying to keep 2 kids and 2 dogs happy in a small dealership waiting room, with nothing but a fish tank and set of employee only stairs (have you ever seen toddlers obsessed with stairs?), felt like way longer than the 2 hours they promised us.
There was another complication… another stress factor you could say. Since we didn’t know for sure how long the buying process would take, we hadn’t figured out WHERE WE WERE STAYING THAT NIGHT! So as 6pm rolled around, and we were still in the dealership, I started making phone calls to find us accommodations nearby… and I kept coming up short. Did I mention this was a Friday night? There are also several State Parks in the area that allow camping, but they only accept reservations 3 days or more in advance, so we would have to keep driving to different ones hoping to find an unreserved spot, and from a couple people I spoke to, that wasn’t likely. When we drove out of the dealership (Raj drove RV and I drove my pretty new Jeep), we still didn’t know where we were going.
So, here’s an interesting fact we learned when we first started researching this adventure: Walmart allows overnight parking for RVs and trucks. Furthermore, people take them up on it all the time. Dry Camping (no hookups for electric, water, or sewer) is also called boondocking, and it’s something we expected to do at some point on this trip. But when we ended up staying in a Walmart parking lot just a week into our trip, I admit, I was initially frazzled… and grumpy. Yes, we parked our RV and our Jeep on the edge of a Denver-area Walmart parking lot, alongside several other RVs and trucks, and proceeded to settle in for the night. Now, I have to say, this is not my idea of camping, and I had thought the boondocking experiences we would likely have would be of the more backcountry, primitive variety, but I also have to admit, this was surprisingly convenient. For one thing, we were low on provisions, so I took the kids inside to shop for food and other necessities (like some kind of cleaner that would take Chai’s drool off the dash – gross, I know), bought the kids a couple of toys out of unnecessary guilt that they were staying at a Walmart, and basically just wandered around. It was also comforting that so many other RVs were there, and it was lighted and monitored, so felt relatively safe.
But we did have one more wrinkle, well, maybe 2 or 3 — 1) we were out of water; our fresh water tank was empty, 2) we didn’t know where we were staying the next night either, and 3) after a gazillion phone calls, we couldn’t find a service company available to install a tow bar and braking system on the RV so that we could all ride together again. With the stress of that day and uncertainty of the next, I didn’t think I would able to sleep that night in the parking lot, but when I lay in bed and looked back on the day, I was instantly overcome with sleep. And amazingly, we all slept soundly that entire night.
I never thought I say this, but… Thanks, Walmart.